WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House and Tehran have exchanged harsh words this month, as Iran symbolically sanctioned a list of Americans in connection with the 2020 killing of General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike.
“We will work with our allies and partners to deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran,” said White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday. “Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 52 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences.”
Iran’s list of those it says are responsible for the top general’s killing contains 51 people, not 52. The reason for the discrepancy is not known.
On Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the 51 Americans had been targeted for what it called “terrorism” and human rights violations. The sanctions allows Iran to seize any assets they hold in Iran, but the apparent absence of such assets means it will likely be symbolic, according to Reuters.
The sanctions included U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
A year ago, Iran imposed sanctions on Trump and several senior U.S. officials.
Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the overseas arm of the elite Revolutionary Guards, was killed in Iraq in a drone strike on Jan. 3, 2020, ordered by former President Trump.
The exchange of threats has been ramping up over the last few weeks. The Revolutionary Guards’ deputy commander earlier said that when the time was right, Iran would strike the U.S. “with great force.”
“We do not have the slightest doubt that at the right time, when we strike America — the Great Satan — and its Zionist followers, we will strike them with great force,” Admiral Ali Fadavi said in an interview on Jan. 4.
Fadavi quoted Iran’s Supreme Leader Imam Khamenei as saying long ago that when the “Zionists were entertaining some illusions… he said, ‘If they take even the smallest step, we will turn Haifa and Tel Aviv into dust.’
“If the Zionists do something stupid and take a step against us, whether big or small, we will see this as a sign that Allah decreed we should be attacked so that we could retaliate,” Fadavi added. “This would mean the annihilation of the Zionists.”
The tensions come as Iran and the U.S. are in indirect talks in Vienna over reviving some form of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that U.S. pulled out of under Trump. France, which is facilitating the talks, said progress has been made, but time is running out.
Israel for its part has expressed multiple time that it would not be bound by such a deal. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reiterated this on Monday, saying Israel would continue to consider itself free to act “with no constraints” against Iran.
“In regard to the nuclear talks in Vienna, we are definitely concerned… Israel is not a party to the agreements,” Bennett said to an Israeli paramilitary committee.
“Israel is not bound by what will be written in the agreements, if they are signed, and Israel will continue to maintain full freedom of action anywhere, any time, with no constraints,” he added.
— Wire and staff